CSB: Limited Oversight, Poor Hazard Awareness Increased Severity of West Explosion
Limited regulatory oversight and poor hazard awareness were among the factors that contributed to the severity of the April 2013 explosion and fire that occurred at an ammonium nitrate storage and distribution facility in West, Texas, according to the U.S. Chemical Safety Board's (CSB) final report on the incident. The report states that fertilizer-grade ammonium nitrate (FGAN) storage “falls under a patchwork of U.S. safety standards and guidance”; at the federal level, neither EPA nor OSHA adequately address FGAN in existing regulations, including EPA’s risk management program rule and OSHA’s explosives and blasting agents and process safety management standards. CSB investigators found that as the city of West expanded and homes and other buildings were built closer to West Fertilizer, the community was unaware of the explosion hazard posed by the facility. The agency’s final report notes that of the 1,300 facilities in the U.S. that store FGAN, 83 percent are located within a quarter-mile of a residence and nearly half are located within a half-mile of a school, hospital, or nursing home. A new CSB safety video illustrates these and other lessons from the incident, including the role of inadequate emergency response. CSB determined that lessons learned from emergency responses to previous ammonium nitrate incidents have not been effectively disseminated to emergency responders in communities where ammonium nitrate is stored. According to the agency, the firefighters who responded to the fire at the West Fertilizer facility were not aware of the explosion hazard posed by the ammonium nitrate stored there. CSB’s final report includes recommendations to OSHA, EPA, and other stakeholders that the Board believes will help prevent similar disasters in the future. The full report is available as a PDF download from CSB’s website.